What hardware do you need?
Studio computers have taken over most of the domain in music production. It is not uncommon to find a single computer churning out most of the recordings, demos and songs of musicians and songwriters. As such, if you are planning to invest in a computer for using it as a home studio, you need to be aware of some of the hardware and software related points to keep in mind.
Laptop or Desktop?
When it comes to studio computers the first question to ask yourself is whether to go for a laptop or a desktop. This depends on how you plan to use your home studio. A laptop will work if you are going to set up a FireWire audio interface, while a Tower PC will work better for PCI Audio Interfaces. Also, all things considered, assembling a desktop will generally be cheaper than buying a laptop.
- Apple products i.e. Macs are the gear of choice for pros. They are stable and efficient. However they are very costly, and not compatible with all the software out there.
- Windows products are cheaper than Macs. All software suites out there will have a Windows version. However they can be buggy and prone to crashes.
Once you have settled these questions, comes the next part. Are you going to use the computer for a lot of mixing and mastering work? If yes, then you need a lot of memory (RAM) to process all the plug-ins and instruments and effects that you are going to throw at your computer. If you are planning to use it for audio recording purposes primarily, your storage (hard disk drive) becomes a critical component.
Taking a closer look inside a studio computers...
Having a fast processor will allow you to run processing programs in the background, while you do live projects on the main interface. Processors these days are classified on the basis of the number of cores they have. Studio computers should at least have a quadra core processor especially if you are running huge software suites like Native Instruments Komplete 8 Software Suite for example.
The chipset controls data-traffic and communication from your inputs to the processor and from the processor to the output. Needles to say, good quality chipsets are crucial for low-latency while recording and to prevent lag when composing, mixing and mastering. Do some research on the chipset that your laptop or computer sports before you buy one.
Hard Drives write, store and read back your data as required. There are a few parameters which affect how efficiently your hard drive performs. You can have big processors and chipsets, but if the hard drive is too slow to write or read data, most of that processing power will go unutilized.
Here are the parameters you should check:
Rotation Speed: The disk within the hard-drive rotates (similar to a CD). The faster the hard drive spins, the faster the computer can read and write data. Hard drives come in the following speeds:
- 4200 RPM: Suitable only for lite versions of software and for small demos or scratch recordings. If you have complex tracks or large projects in mind to work on, avoid these.
- 5400 RPM: These hard drives are popular and fit the needs of most home studio computers. This will suit the requirements of most musicians and songwriters who are often working on a single album or a few tracks most of the time.
- 7200 RPM: These hard drives are expensive, but they are work-horses that deliver bang for the buck. If you plan on using large software suites, multiple track albums, or large projects, it will be worthwhile to invest in such hard drives. Most laptops don't feature such hard disk drives, but it isn't uncommon for desktops to have these. In fact some desktop computers even feature 7200+ RPM hard disk drives.
Some people prefer using multiple hard disk drives. For e.g. they may have one that will be dedicated for recording and another for mixing and mastering. Be sure to install a FireWire to connect multiple hard disks if you want to be able to communicate between them in real time.
Solid State Disks are the latest technology in data writing and storage. They are essentially like USBs which use flash technology to store data. Since there are no mechanical parts, data processing is much faster. However they are very costly.
RAM is a buffer memory, similar to cache, but the cache merely speeds up access to the RAM while the RAM actually processes all the functionality of software. It does this before you even access that specific functionality and delivers it to you on demand. Without adequate RAM, expect to have a huge amount of latency develop in your recordings.
All software will specify the minimum amount of RAM that your system should have. However, they will rarely function to their full potential at this much amount of RAM. If you have a specific software suite in mind for your home studio, find out how much minimum RAM it needs and then go for at least double that.
Keep in mind that your motherboard has a limit to how much RAM it can use. If it has an 8 GB limit for example, sticking 16 GB of RAM into it won't do any good. Besides this the OS and whether it is 32 bit or 64 bit will also affect RAM usage limits for your computer.
Audio cards are what people are talking about when they talk of audio interfaces. The most popular ones are PCI, usb and firewire. All of these interfaces have their pros and cons, but whatever you choose, make sure it is compatible with your motherboard as well as your OS. Also, while data-transfer isn't too much of an issue with PCI interfaces, make sure you go for USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 to avoid high-latency when working.
Like RAM, be sure to check your product specifications to ensure that it is compatible with your operating system. Operating systems upgrade almost every year, and most software suites too upgrade along-with the OS. As this iteration proceeds, these suites drop support for older versions of the OS.
So make sure that you aren't loading your computer with an old OS, as the latest versions of the software may not run on them. As of now try to have Windows Vista or better on your PC to avoid compatibility issues.
Hopefully you now have an understanding of what studio computers need inside them to handle the heavy workload which recording songs can take out on a system. Armed with this knowledge, you can now successfully pick the right studio computers for your home recording studio.